The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

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Tales of the Grimoire (book one), edited by Astrid Ohletz and Gill McKnight

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It’s going on Halloween and you may have realized I love that holiday just a little more than I love all the others. One reason is all the new shiny stories who bite themselves into my flesh and won’t let go until they drank me dry. Sorry, for the bad metaphor there, but what better time than Halloween for awfully gory metaphors?

Ylva Publishing’s 2015 Halloween anthology is once again full of very entertaining and very different stories, all concerned with the scary, the supernatural, the downright sexy of All Hallow’s Eve. I find myself in a rare mood this year and enjoy stories about characters who do things and just happen to be queer a lot more than the ‘look at me, I’m gay’ stories. Luckily, this anthology delivers on that front.

We have zombie slayers, witches, a succubus, demon possession, and dryads. We go back in time and into a dystopian future, and rediscover an actual murder case. And, of course, we wouldn’t be satisfied if our all time favorites, werewolves and vampires, weren’t part of the mix, too. Between all these goodies are short scary snippets by Cheri Fuller, interludes that will make your skin crawl. I loved those, they were surprising and rounded out the anthology perfectly.

While I enjoyed all the stories, I do have favorites. This year, Centralia, 2013 by May Dawney, Still Life by Jess Lea, and The Crocodile Eye by Gill McKnight pulled me into their worlds and shook me up. But all stories were well-written, well-thought through, well-done. Ylva Publishing puts together another great anthology and I can’t wait for book two. When will that come out, anyway?

If you love well-written scary stories with female protagonists. If you don’t mind a little lady-love happening. If you are alone on Halloween, have already assembled your candles, murder weapon, and cauldron – muahahaha – buy this book to read with a spiked hot chocolate. You won’t regret it.

The Secret of Sleepy Hollow by Andi Marquette

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We continue with more reading for Halloween, folks. This story is maybe a little less on the gory than the one before, but who doesn’t like a nice mystery with their ghostly. Also: romance, and that isn’t too bad to have either, especially when you’re trying to solve a mystery.

Abby Crane is writing her doctoral thesis about the legend of the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow; and what better place to begin her research than in the town itself? She also wants to find out more about her own ancestor Ichabod Crane and his disappearance. In Katie McClaren she finds a fellow nerd on the quest to uncover the secret of Ichabod. Katie, herself a descendent of Katrina van Tassel, has her own theories about the mystery that bounds Abby’s and her ancestors. And then there is their own story which involves a headless horseman and an attraction beyond their comprehension.

I must confess, I never read the story by Washington Irving (the reading list back in my first year of studying American lit had Goodman Brown on it). Of course, I watched the Burton film and I really love it, but I never even knew that it wasn’t quite the same as Irving’s story. Marquette taught me better. She tells a lot about the story behind the legend, makes up her own spiel about the Crane mystery and brings it all together in an entertaining read.

To broaden the focus of such a well-known story and to make it plausible and entertaining is quite a chore, but Marquette does it with finesse. Her solutions may not always be surprising, but it’s still fun to accompany Abby and Katie on their quest for the truth. And Abby and Katie are themselves great protagonists with a wonderful chemistry.

If you like new takes on old tales (and I’m aware that’s not for everybody as I hear shouts of ‘sacriledge!’ in the far background), you should give this one a go. Marquette spins a fun tale with some ghostly elements and a sweet love story or two. You’ll probably like Ichabod and Katrina even better after reading this. You’ll at least get a new perspective on an old legend.